Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
FILE - Kent Bendixen rides his bike in downtown Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — It's actually illegal to ride an unlicensed bike in Salt Lake City limits — but so few bikes are being registered in the city, it's resulting in a dismal number of stolen bike recoveries and a nightmare for police.

So city leaders are considering a change: Elimination of the $2 registration fee and an easier, online registration process.

The city's current ordinance requires city-supplied paper forms to be filled out — whether it be by a city resident bike rider, or by a bicycle shop, which is also required by law to license every single bike sold.

But the current process is so inconvenient, bike owners and even shops rarely submit the paperwork. Thousands of bikes are left unregistered and susceptible to being gone forever if they're ever lost or stolen, and a mountain of unclaimed bikes end up stored by police.

"It's really been a problem for us," Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown told the City Council on Tuesday when proposing the ordinance change.

He quickly found support.

"The current system is ridiculous," Councilman Andrew Johnson said.

Last year, Salt Lake police handled 1,406 bicycle reports, including 1,194 bikes reported stolen and 212 abandoned. Of that, only 83 bicycles were returned to their owners, according to city staff.

If more people registered their bikes, Salt Lake City police would have the ability to trace more bikes back to their rightful owners, Brown said.

"This proposal encourages more people to license their bicycles and makes it much more likely their bikes can be returned if they are ever stolen," said Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski in a statement issued Tuesday. "This is a very effective way to protect our bike-riding residents."

The proposed ordinance change would do away with the city-supplied paper forms, allow bicycle dealers and owners to license their bikes online and eliminate the licensing fee.

Brown said it would also give police a more efficient tool to access lost or stolen bike databases and find owners more quickly.

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The city collects an estimated $2,600 a year from licensing fees, according to city staff. Its revenue Councilman Charlie Luke said the city wouldn't miss.

"If any of you have been down to the storage facility, it looks like a bike warehouse," Luke said.

Luke added the new system could be set up in a way so other cities and counties could utilize it.

"I think we ought to encourage them to (use it) because the bigger the database, the better," Luke said.

The council did not vote to implement the ordinance change, but it's expected to take a formal vote as soon as next week.